The authors of Austere Realism describe and defend a provocative ontological-cum-semantic position, asserting that the right ontology is minimal or austere, in that it excludes numerous common-sense posits, and that statements employing such posits are nonetheless true, when truth is understood to be semantic correctness under contextually operative semantic standards. Terence Horgan and Matjaz [hacek over z] Potrc [hacek over c] argue that austere realism emerges naturally from consideration of the deep problems within the naive common-sense approach to truth and ontology. They offer an account of truth that confronts these deep internal problems and is independently plausible: contextual semantics, which asserts that truth is semantically correct affirmability. Under contextual semantics, much ordinary and scientific thought and discourse is true because its truth is indirect correspondence to the world. After offering further arguments for austere realism and addressing objections to it, Horgan and Potrc [hacek over c] consider various alternative austere ontologies. They advance a specific version they call “blobjectivism”--the view that the right ontology includes only one concrete particular, the entire cosmos (“the blobject”), which, although it has enormous local spatiotemporal variability, does not have any proper parts. The arguments in Austere Realism are powerfully made and concisely and lucidly set out. The authors’ contentions and their methodological approach--products of a decade-long collaboration--will generate lively debate among scholars in metaphysics, ontology, and philosophy. Terence E. Horgan is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona. Matjaz [hacek over z] Potrc [hacek over c] is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana.
Human cognition is soft. It is too flexible, too rich, and too open-ended to be captured by hard (precise, exceptionless) rules of the sort that can constitute a computer program. In Connectionism and the Philosophy of Psychology, Horgan and Tienson articulate and defend a new view of cognition. In place of the classical paradigm that take the mind to be a computer (or a group of linked computers), they propose that the mind is best understood as a dynamical system realized in a neural network.
Although Horgan and Tienson assert that cognition cannot be understood in classical terms of the algorithm-governed manipulation of symbols, they don't abandon syntax. Instead, they insist that human cognition is symbolic, and that cognitive processes are sensitive to the structure of symbols in the brain: the very richness of cognition requires a system of mental representations within which there are syntactically complex symbols and structure-sensitive processing.
However, syntactic constituents need not be parts of complex representations, and structure sensitive processes need not conform to algorithms. Cognition requires a language of thought, but a language of thought implicated in processes that are not governed by hard rules. Instead, symbols are generated and transformed in response to interacting cognitive forces, which are determined by multiple, simultaneous, (robustly) soft constraints. Thus, cognitive processes conform to soft (ceteris paribus) laws, rather than to hard laws. Cognitive forces are subserved by, but not identical with, physical forces in a network; the organization and the interaction of cognitive forces are best understood in terms of the mathematical theory of dynamical systems.
The concluding chapter elaborates the authors' proposed dynamical cognition framework.